There will be full Chilean representation in this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage after Unión Española dispensed of Mexican side Tigres to make it a Santiago trio along with Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica.
Leading 1-0 from the first-leg through Gonzalo Barriga’s header at the Estadio Santa Laura Española knew a draw would suffice in taking them through. However they did it the hard way. Tigres raced into a 2-0 lead before letting it unravel just as quickly, going down to ten men and La Furia Roja drawing level on aggregate. The Chileans also had a player sent off but it did not stop them from confirming their group stage place with an equaliser on the night.
In front of a raucous and expectant home crowd Tigres went for the jugular from the off. 20-year-old Alan Pulido forcing Eduardo Lobos into a fine save pushing the ball onto the post. Pulido wouldn’t have long to wait to claim his first goal of the game however. With 15 minutes on the clock Alberto Acosta cut onto his right foot and swung in an inviting delivery which only needed the slightest touch from Pulido’s forehead to send it past Lobos.
Seven minutes later and Tigres had left the away side stunned. A long ball from the Tigres defence turned Rafael Olarra who chased the hopeful pass towards his own goal. At the same time Lobos emerged from his line to clear the danger. A mix-up ensued as Olarra sent a header back to his out of position goalkeeper who made an illegal effort to stop the ball going past him but it was all in vain as Pulido snuck in and knocked another simple header into the empty net.
It was all going so well for the home side – they had further chances to assert their control – until disaster struck eight minutes from half-time. The first-leg goal scorer Barriga had his swerving run brought to a premature end by a sliding tackle from Tigres captain José Rivas, taking none of the ball and all of the player. The referee deemed it to be a goal scoring opportunity. Emmanuel Herrera firmly dispatched his penalty into the opposite corner to the one in which goalkeeper Aaron Fernández dived.
Having dragged themselves level Española looked to have shot themselves in the foot in four quick second half-minutes as new signing Mauro Díaz collected two bookings. Yet seven minutes later, on the 70th minute mark, Sebastián Jaime dramatically headed the Chileans through. This was after the home side seemed to have set up camp in Española’s half. Barriga shot down the left-hand side and sent in a cross that left Jaime with an easy header.
Española’s two-legged victory puts them into a group with one familiar face in fellow Chileans Universidad Católica. Group 3 is completed by Colombia’s Junior de Barranquilla and Bolívar of Bolivia. Española kick-off their group stage campaign with a home tie against Junior while Católica start at home to Bolívar next week. The first meeting between the two sides in the Libertadores is at the beginning of March and the return leg at the end of the same month.
Peñarol’s 5-1 aggregate win against Venezuelans Caracas means that they complete Universidad de Chile’s Group 8. La U will also play Argentina’s Godoy and Colombia’s Atlético Nacional. They will start with an away trip to Medellín to face Atlético as they look to build from their Copa Sudamericana success.